UK To Ask For Brexit Extension
Following the rejection, for a second time, of the EU Withdrawal Bill and a decision that parliament does not wish to leave the EU without a deal in place, yesterday’s Brexit drama centred on the question of whether or not to seek an extension of the Article 50 notice period beyond its two-year limit (which expires on 29th March 2019).
The Brexit faithful in parliament still favour crashing out of the EU with no deal, but they were plainly in a minority. The main government motion (on a free vote for their MPs) was passed with 413 votes in favour and 202 opposed. Despite the fact it was a free vote, many have seized on the fact that seven cabinet ministers voted against the government. Strikingly, amongst the seven was Steven Barclay, the Brexit minister, who closed the debate for the government, asking MPs to back the motion and then voting against it himself.
An amendment which would have seen parliament take more control of the Brexit process failed to pass by just two votes.
May plainly intends to present the withdrawal bill for a third time next week, despite the fact that that would seem to be a breach of parliamentary rules that say a bill that has been submitted and voted on cannot be re-presented in the same parliamentary session unless it has been substantially changed. It remains to be seen if a challenge on these grounds will be launched if the bill does return next week.
Should the withdrawal bill pass, the government will ask the EU for a short Brexit extension until June. If it doesn’t pass, then a longer extension would be required (potentially 21 months) and the government thinks that British candidates would need to stand for May’s European Parliamentary elections.
Signals from the EU are mixed. It seems that there is an appetite to extend A50 notice, but only in certain situations. The most pertinent of these is that there must be a clear purpose to the extension period. Some suggest that any extension must be short, others argue that the extension must be long enough to allow the UK to sort the mess it has got itself into out. Any prolongation would require the unanimous approval of EU states, should this not happen the UK would crash out to no deal and no transition on 29/3/19. The only control the UK would have in such a circumstance would be to rescind its notice under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and remain as an EU member state. This would be the logical conclusion of the votes passed in parliament this week, should an extension be denied.